Don't Forget About the Big Picture

April is not a good month for reflection. From early March until 11:59PM on April 30th my days are packed. My OmniFocus lists are filled with "File xx", "Fill out xx", and "Ask client about xx". What you don't see a lot of during this time of year is "Brainstorm xx", "Test out xx", or "Rethink the way I do xx".

That's understandable during tax season. Sometimes you just have to put your head down and grind through your lists until the work is done. What a lot of people forget, though, is to make sure those big picture questions are getting answered when there is more time.

Two of my favourite business books are Getting Things Done and The E-Myth Revisited. GTD is about task management, and E-Myth is about the way you structure and run your small business. They're not the same topic, but they both focus on the same goal. Spend time creating intelligent systems for your business. Make the systems powerful, but also easy enough to work with day after day.

The problem I have, and I think a lot of solo business owners have, is time and priorities. It's so easy to get lost in the task list. Beyond just being overcommitted, it's about money. I can't bill a client for brainstorming. There are only so many hours in the day, and I have bills to pay. If I have 2 hours and my choices are to spend that on billable projects or watching a tutorial on my bookkeeping software...guess what I usually choose? How about you?

Let's not fight it. You can't expect your in-the-moment self to make a choice that pays $0 over one that puts food in the fridge. Instead, plan ahead. Schedule a weekly appointment with yourself to review the big picture. During the crazy times this might be a monthly thing...but whatever schedule you choose stick with it. GTD followers will be familiar with the concept of a weekly review. Make sure your weekly review includes time devoted to looking at the system itself. Here are some good questions to ask yourself.

  1. Am I using the right software? Should I start researching other options?
  2. Are there courses or tutorials available for the software I use?
  3. Am I scheduling my days properly? Am I doing the important work when my energy is at its highest?
  4. Should I consider a price increase, or changing the way I charge for my services?

Don't forget, it's just as easy to spend too much time on this. You don't want to focus so much on the big picture that you're missing deadlines and losing money. There will always be new apps, time management systems, and differing opinions. You don't need to test them all. If you have a system that works, keep it. Do some regular tweaks, and train yourself well so you know your system inside and out. If you do this, you'll be able to work much more efficiently when crunch time hits.

A few good links

I run into so many great resources each week, so it would be a shame not to share some of them with you. Here I I run into so many great resources each week, so it would be a shame not to share some of them with you. Here are a few links I thought you'd find interesting.

Workflow Field Guide: Last week one of the apps I recommended was Workflow. If you want to learn more, David Sparks (aka MacSparky) has a great video guide. David does a series of field guides. They're normally iBooks, but he has now done 2 video guides. The first one was for OmniFocus (another app I recommended) and then this one for Workflow. I bought the OmniFocus one too but haven't watched it yet. I'm sure I'll be recommending it too, but the Workflow guide is really helpful if you want to get started. It's a bit of an intimidating app when you first open it up, and I think David does a great job of stepping you through some basic and then more advanced use cases. I'm sure I've mentioned this one before, but this is a great site when you need information about Canadian tax returns. The CRA's site is actually quite a good resource too, but I find this one much easier to navigate. If you really want to stay on top of the latest news you can subscribe to the blog too. It posts tax related updated regularly, which is especially handy this time of the year.

Earth Class Mail: Here's a great service for my US readers. Earth Class Mail is something I really wish we had in Canada. You sign up for ECM, fill out some forms, and get all of your physical mail forwarded to them. When you login to your dashboard, you will see all of the mail that arrived. From there you can have them open and scan the mail, forward it somewhere else, or shred/recycle the junk mail. My favourite part for small businesses? You can setup your bank account, and if any of the mail contains a cheque (sorry...check), it's automatically forwarded and deposited into your bank account. Yes, I know...this is probably setting off 101 security warnings in your head, and that's understandable. All I know is that one of my clients has been using it for the better part of a year and it has been incredible. You can set it to automatically open and scan new mail, so checks will show up and deposit to the bank, even if you're away. For anyone who has ever tried to make a business deposit on a Friday...that's a lot of time saved each month.

Hopefully you'll find these as useful as I have. If you try these out and want to share your thoughts, let me know by email or in the comments.